White Fang: Metaphor Analysis

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The Wild is a dominant symbol for the perilous nature of life. The Wild symbolizes life as a struggle: for example, the Wild is a place in which the sun makes a "futile effort" to appear (I.2). White Fang himself is a symbol of the Wild (IV.1). The Wild is, for White Fang as a pup, the "unknown" (II.3)-and he, in turn, becomes the embodiment of the "unknown" for others (V.3). And yet the Wild is not a wholly negative metaphor in this story, for the Wild gives White Fang much of his strength. For example, in the final chapter, as he is struggling for life, White Fang is able to survive when other animals may not have, for White Fang, we are reminded, "had come straight from the Wild, where the weak perish early and shelter is vouchsafed to none. A constitution of iron and the vitality of the Wild were White Fang's inheritance" (V.5). The Wild is thus a multivalent metaphor in White Fang, but tending to express the power of life to survive and even thrive. Like the Wild, the life force cannot be completely tamed.
Light is a common symbol for life in the world's literature, because light is, of course, a physical necessity for life. Light's symbolic function in White Fang proves no exception. In II.3, for instance, we read that as the young pups starve, "the life that was in them flickered and died down," and that White Fang's sister's "flame flickered lower and lower and at last went out." In that same chapter, however, the "wall of light"-the entrance to the wolves' lair-is a symbol for living in the larger world. Life is as precarious as a flickering flame, yes, but it is also persistent: "The light drew [the cubs] as if they were plants; the chemistry of the life that composed them demanded the light as a necessity of being." Similarly, the light and warmth of Gray Beaver's fire attracts White Fang (III.1). Readers will note other examples of light serving a symbolic function, because light is equated with life, and the persistence of a life is a dominant theme of the book.
Clay is a metaphor employed several times in the book to describe the "raw material" of a person or animal's makeup. It is the metaphor London chooses to use to address the perpetual debate about the relative importance of "nature" and "nurture" in determining identity. London offers three clear examples of characters whose clay has been harshly molded through harsh experiences (which can only be called "nurture" for the terms of the argument): Beauty Smith, Jim Hall, and White Fang. Interestingly, Smith and Hall seem beyond "redemption":

Smith runs away into the night after White Fang attacks him (IV.6), and Hall is killed by White Fang (V.5). Only White Fang is "redeemed," and that occurs through a nurture that is worthy of the name: Weedon Scott's love of the animal. The key passage, perhaps, occurs in IV.6, when we are told explicitly about the two very different "thumbs of circumstance" that have worked their way on the clay of White Fang's character-first, an oppressive thumb that turned him into a vicious and savage fighter; last, the loving thumb of Weedon Scott that helped him transform into "Blessed Wolf" (V.5).

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